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Questions to ask about reputation services

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By Karen J. Bannan

Experts agree: The solution to deliverability problems may have less to do with what your e-mail message says and more to do with how you send it. Last year, the Email Service Provider Coalition came out publicly in support of e-mail authentication as a way to improve deliverability rates. Separately, a new industry—e-mail reputation services—cropped up. The combination, said Trevor Hughes, executive director of the Email Service Provider Coalition, should help marketers get through to their customers more effectively.

"If marketers aren’t using authentication already, they should very soon be using one of two protocols: Sender ID or SPF," he said. "Reputation services layer on top and should emerge as a critical factor for large-volume senders."

Reputation providers, also called bonded senders, collect a fee or bond from their clients. That places the sender on a white list that recipient e-mail servers can then match messages against. If the e-mail sender is on the list, that e-mail passes straight through. If a client abuses the system and sends spam, it forfeits its money and is dropped from the list.

There are several considerations surrounding reputation providers and authentication, especially when you’re sending your e-mails through an ESP. Hughes suggested asking your ESP the following questions:

  • Are you testing the syntax of the authentication to make sure it’s correct? Authentication allows a receiving e-mail server—your customer’s, for example—to query back to your e-mail server and ask that your message did indeed originate there. The server will check using IP address and user name. If just one of the symbols or spaces in the request is wrong, it’s not going to work. "There are tools that a provider can use right on the ESPcoalition.org Web site," Hughes said. "They should be checking this for you automatically."
  • Can you help me implement these services? Hughes said you should make sure your ESP is already helping other customers use authentication and is familiar with the different reputation providers and what they offer.
  • Have you seen deliverability results improve for your current clients once they implemented a reputation service? "Your ESP is going to be your liaison for deliverability services so they should know how well a specific service is functioning," Hughes said.
  • Do you know which ISPs and companies recognize which reputation providers? If the customers you want to e-mail use one reputation provider but you’re using another, you’re basically throwing your money away, Hughes said. "We’d hate to get into a situation where one company has to buy three different reputation services to get through to all their clients, but it’s definitely happening," he said. "You don’t want to create multiple-walled gardens, but sometimes it’s necessary."
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